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The Redskin Who Saved The White Man’s Hide
Chief Washakie earned his battle scars in the service of the Great White Father, who—for once at least—kept faith with an Indian
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
In the Battle of Death Hollow, as the soldiers called it, Captain Guy V. Henry, Third Cavalry, was seriously wounded. As he lay prostrate on the ground, Tigce, Bannock subchicf of Washakie, stood over him and held the hostiles at bay with his carbine until both could be rescued. Two government scouts, Nelson Yarnell and another known only as Eckkles, discovered General (hook in a dangerous position and escorted him to safety.
After the Sioux withdrew, Crook mustered his men and decided to return to Goose Creek. His losses for the day were fifty-nine killed and wounded. There are no records ol the Sioux losses, nor of those of the Shoshones and Crows. The battle had been a dead heat.
When Crazy Horse made his final surrender, he told Crook that he had had no less than 6,500 fighting men in the field that day. Fifteen hundred had taken part in the first charge while the others hid behind steep ridges and bluffs. Crazy Horse told Crook that, had it not been for the Shoshones and Crows, the army advancing down the canyon would have suffered the same fate that Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were to endure on the Little Big Horn less than a fortnight later.
Although Washakie did not take an active part in the battle of the Rosebud, he was in the forefront of the fighting at all times, giving advice and orders. Sometimes he sat his war horse at Crook’s side, watching the battle and pointing out defects in the tactics of Shoshones, Crows, and United States troops. When he saw Crazy Horse bring his mass of reserves into sight, he calmly turned to Crook and said, “Too dam much Sioux here today for ‘Cook’ and Washakie to fight.” Two months later, in late August, Washakie and his veterans helped Crook defeat Dull Knife and his Cheyennes in the Big Horn Mountains. That was the blow that broke the back of the Sioux resistance and led to the swift defeat of Crazy Horse. Chief Washakie’s promise to the United” States government, of help whenever requested, had been fulfilled.
The man who was to become known as Washakie was born at the turn of the century among the Flathead Indians in the Bitter Root Mountains of northern Montana. His mother was a Shoshone, and his father, Paseego, a Flathead. His birth name was “Shoots Straight,” because a ray of the morning sun coming into the lodge made a straight line the full length of his infant body.
When Shoots Straight was in his middle teens he earned the name that he kept lor the rest of his life. From the inflated and dried scrotum of a buffalo, in which he had placed a few pebbles, he made a rattle, called a washakie , or “gambler’s gourd,” which is used in one of the many Indian gambling games. He always carried his washakie with him and accompanied himself with it when he sang. His voice, a high clear tenor, was the only parlor grace he ever claimed, save for his ability to draw pictures of his exploits and accompany them with long descriptive monologues in which he always did “the bad guys” in.
When Washakie was still in his teens, his mother decided to accompany the Lemhis, a band of northern Shoshones, on a move north into the Flathead country. At this time the Lemhis were visiting with another branch of the Shoshones, or “Snake” people, the Bannocks, who were headed east to hunt buffalo. Washakie chose to go with them, rather than to go north with his mother. They probably never met again.
He grew into a full-Hedged warrior among the Bannocks, then joined the eastern Shoshones, the people to whom he devoted the rest of his days. These nomadic hunters had no real leader and lived in a state of anarchy; but they were liked and respected by the men ol the lui trade and the early explorers. Harassment by the Sioux, Chcyennes, and Arapahoes was all that held them together in any semblance of a tribe.
During his first years among these people, Washakie met liis first American whites. The great trading rendezvous, from 1825 to 1840, were held near Shoshone country and he probably never missed one ol them. There lie would have met such men as General Ashley, William Sublctte, Lucien Fontenellc, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger, trappers and traders: and Father De Smet and Marcus Whitman, the missionaries. These men must have had a great influence on the young brave. Washakie (his name has been spelled a score ol different ways) was first called to the attention of the authorities in Washington by the early Indian agents in the inteimountain West, in connection with the various Shoshone and Ute tribes.